Standard antiretroviral therapy (ART) includes a combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to suppress the virus and stop the progression of HIV disease. Doctors recommend ART for all people with HIV as soon as possible after diagnosis regardless of CD4 cell count.
How HIV Treatment Works
HIV destroys CD4 cells in the immune system. With fewer CD4 cells, the body is less able to fight infection, as well as HIV-related cancers.
HIV treatment stops HIV from multiplying, and this in turn means there is less HIV in the body. (The amount of HIV in the body is called the viral load.) This kind of HIV treatment is beneficial in two ways:
- With less HIV in the body, the immune system is able to recover and create more CD4 cells. Even with HIV, the body is thus strong enough to fight infection and disease.
- Because of a smaller viral load, the risk of transmission to other people is also lower.
ART Reduces Transmission Rate
ART is not a cure, but thanks to these HIV drugs, HIV stops multiplying. These antiviral medicines reduce the amount of HIV in your body. And as a result, ART reduces the virus load and significantly decreases the HIV transmission rate.
HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids — blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, and breast milk. It can be spread through vaginal or anal sex, sharing needles or tattoo equipment, breastfeeding, or in pregnancy (from mother to child). However if one’s viral load is consistently low enough so that it is considered to be “undetectable”, it is virtually impossible to transmit HIV to another person. Moreover, ART not only saves individual lives but also actually lowers the collective viral load of communities. This significantly reduces the rate of HIV transmission.